Forging Islamic Science

Episode 400

hosted by Suzie Ferguson

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In this episode, Nir Shafir talks about the problem of "fake minatures" of Islamic science: small paintings that look old, but are actually contemporary productions. As these images circulate in museums, on book covers, and on the internet, they tell us more about what we want "Islamic science" to be than what it actually was. That, Nir tells us, is a lost opportunity.

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Contributor Bios

Nir Shafir researches the intellectual and religious history of the Middle East, from roughly 1400-1800, focusing on material culture and the history of science and technology. He serves as assistant professor of history at UCSD and is part of the editorial board of Ottoman History Podcast as well curating its series on history of science.
Suzie Ferguson is a Ph.D. Candidate in Middle Eastern History at Columbia University. She is currently finishing a dissertation entitled "Tracing Tarbiya: Women, Gender and Childrearing in Egypt and Lebanon, 1865-1939."


Episode No. 400
Release Date: 02 February 2019
Recording Location: Istanbul, Turkey
Audio editing by Suzie Ferguson
Music: Muhtelif- Samsa
Images and bibliography courtesy of Nir Shafir


A fake miniature depicting three men in turbans looking through the night sky through telescopes. See Aeon article for explanation of the forgery.
A fake miniature depicting a sick man coming to a pharmacist for treatment. Distributed via Aramco World magazine.
A fake miniature depicting "tooth worms" causing cavities in the teeth.
Fake miniature depicting scholars studying an astrolabe sold to the Whipple Museum in 1999. (Photograph courtesy of Nir Shafir)
Screengrab by author of Wellcome Images photo service of a fake miniature with gibberish Arabic copying a well-known genuine image of the circulatory system.

Select Bibliography

Nir Shafir, "Forging Islamic Science," Aeon, 11 Sep 2018.

Monica Green, Kathleen Walker-Meikle, and Wolfgang Müller, "Diagnosis of a 'Plague' Image: A Digital Cautionary Tale," The Medieval Globe 1, no. 1 (January 4, 2016).

Jones, Lori, and Richard Nevell. "Plagued by doubt and viral misinformation: the need for evidence-based use of historical disease images." The Lancet Infectious Diseases 16, no. 10 (October 1, 2016): 235–40.

Brentjes, Sonja, Taner Edis, and Lutz Richter-Bernburg. 1001 distortions: how (not) to narrate history of science, medicine, and technology in non-Western cultures. Bibliotheca academica. Reihe Orientalistik ; Bd. 25. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2016.

Orhan Pamuk, The Innocence of Objects (New York: Abrams, 2012).

Fuat Sezgin, The Istanbul Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam: An Overview (Istanbul: Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Culture Co, 2010).

Elias Muhanna, The World in a Book: Al-Nuwayri and the Islamic Encyclopedic Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017).


Unknown said…
Captions or a written account of the podcast would be very helpful to those who are Deaf or HOH. You should make your content accessible to all, it's quite frustrating that you don't.

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